Academic journal article About Performance

Breaking the Silence: Exploring Experiences of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder with Returned Veterans to Develop a Contemporary Performance Narrative, the Return

Academic journal article About Performance

Breaking the Silence: Exploring Experiences of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder with Returned Veterans to Develop a Contemporary Performance Narrative, the Return

Article excerpt

You wanna know what the most difficult thing about active service is? Returning fucking home. That's the most difficult thing about active service.

-Linda Hassall, The Return

The following article provides a discussion of the levels of real and perceived risks specific to The Return, an applied performance narrative. Elements of risk are addressed from within the phases of creation and development and are discussed from the positions of: interpretation, representation, and reception of the work. The Return draws on testimony and recounted experiences of returned service personnel living with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and links narrative inquiry with applied theatre processes and practices. Between January and June 2013 I worked with male service men and veterans from various military conflicts spanning almost fifty years. Importantly, I also worked with their family members. As playwrightresearcher, I met with the informants, usually in their homes, and they shared their personal stories with me. The informants were asked to reveal personal trauma injuries and openly discuss their PTSD symptoms, which I would then interpret into dramatic form. They were also asked to place their trust in an artistic process that aimed at representing these experiences, in some instances as interpreted by actors through performance. During this phase, some of the ex-soldiers took on performance roles working alongside actors and other creative artists. Together, they developed a rehearsed reading of the text for an audience, who themselves received the work filtered through their own experience of and associations with the subject matter.

Background to the Project

The Return is the culmination of a project funded by the Australian Research Council, The Difficult Return, which investigates arts-based approaches to mental health literacy and resilience building with recently returned ex-military personnel and their families.1 The project aims to break the silence about PTSD inherent in military culture by creating opportunities for frank discussion between veterans, ex-service men, audiences, and military and support organisations about combat/deployment experiences and the complications associated with their reintegration into civilian life. The research began with lead investigator Professor Michael Balfour (Griffith University) and Professor Marvin Westwood (University of British Columbia) working with returned soldiers and veterans in an arts-based project, The Veterans Transition Program (VTP). The VTP utilised theatre practices to explore the impact military experiences had on the participants' lives. While not directly involved in this early phase of the research, I was commissioned to devise a series of web-based narratives that were based on the data collected during the VTP. These narratives will form the basis of an interactive website where veterans and service personnel can access information about, and links to, support network organisations if they are experiencing relationship and/or mental health related problems. This play, The Return, can be identified with applied theatre/performance practices in that it is characterised through a shifting interaction between participants and their real-life conditions, and between the theatrical process and an embodied practice that explores their condition for a specific purpose. As Thompson (2006) defines, this sort of process addresses the moments between circumstance, participant, and process and is described as the "betwixt moment where neither the theatre nor the social environment" nor the participant "community group is stable" (199). As a performance narrative, the play aims to explore and address the marginalised and muted experiences of the veterans through embodied practice.2

The Risks in Interpretation

As a playwright I am essentially an interpreter of life experience-a storyteller-and storytelling, as Riessman (2001) suggests, "is what we do with research [. …

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